Effective scrutiny essential when councils fail – as they will do more often in future

“There needs to be a “thorough rethink” about how to approach failure in local government, think-tanks have warned.

Methods of addressing failure in local government are “no longer fit for purpose” according to a briefing paper published on 10 December by the Centre for Public Scrutiny and Localis.

They identified four main types of failure including: a failure of culture, a failure of service, a failure of function and a failure of duty.

CfPS and Localis said councils experiencing these types of failure often become less outward looking, more introspective and more defensive. The warning was timely, they said, because of the recent high-profile failures at Northamptonshire County Council, and increasing pressures on the sector more widely.

Jacqui McKinlay, chief executive of the Centre for Public Scrutiny, said: “Our recent experience of working with local authorities shows that it is time for a thorough rethink about local government failure.

“Failure in local government is not something that is going to go away – in fact, a range of looming pressures mean that the problem is likely to become more prevalent in the years ahead.”

McKinlay urged local government needs to prepare for increasing instances of failure in the years ahead.

She added: “We are clear that improved scrutiny processes at the local level will be crucial in this effort.” …”


One thought on “Effective scrutiny essential when councils fail – as they will do more often in future


    What these “think tanks” are saying may be correct as far as it goes – there needs to be better transparency, scrutiny and accountability over local government failings – but they are focusing on the consequences and not the causes.

    Surely it is better to avoid local government failures in the first place by not cutting funding to the point that local councils cannot:

    * meet their minimum legal responsibilities and still stay solvent; and

    * cannot meet the minimum expectations of their local residents; and

    * are pushed into making rash and risky financial decisions for which they are ill prepared and inexperienced and which are therefore even more risky than they would be for private sector bodies who do it for a living and so understand the risks and have the skills to execute such investments, and who spread the risks across more projects than local councils can.

    What we have now is a perfect storm:

    * Cuts to local government funding pushing them to the brink;

    * Risk taking in investments that have nothing to do with council services and are purely attempts to close a funding gap by public sector bodies who are ill equipped and inexperienced in making such risky investments;

    * A lack of transparency and accountability in local government that allows such risky investments to be made without proper scrutiny by either councillors or the public, and without the ability to hold the decision makers to account afterwards; and

    * A political party system where local politicians put loyalty to their political party above the needs of residents and above common sense in order to prop-up the failings of their own party in central government – by allowing themselves to be pushed into making even more stupid consequential decisions rather than speaking out and pushing back against stupid government decisions. (I would say that this is the blind following the blind – but that would be trivialising a political environment which is now deeply undemocratic.)


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